Neurobiologists uncover evidence of a 'memory code'

September 8, 2005

By examining how sounds are registered during the process of learning, UC Irvine neurobiologists have discovered a neural coding mechanism that the brain relies upon to register the intensity of memories based on the importance of the experience.

While neurobiologists have long hypothesized this type of neural coding, the study presents the first evidence that a "memory code" of any kind may exist. The UCI researchers believe that this code, as well as similar codes that may be discovered, will not only broaden our understanding of normal learning and memory but also may shed light on learning disorders. It may also one day be possible to manipulate these codes to control what and how we remember – not only basic sounds, but complicated information and events.

"This memory code may help explain both good and poor memory," said Norman Weinberger, a professor of neurobiology and behavior in UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. "People tend to remember important experiences better than routine ones."

Weinberger and his colleagues found that when the brain uses this coding method, information is stored in a greater number of brain cells, which should result in a stronger memory. However, the researchers believe that if the brain fails to use the code, the resulting memory – even if it is an important one – would be weaker because fewer neurons would be involved.

Weinberger and postdoctoral researcher Richard Rutkowski discovered this coding system through studying how the primary auditory cortex responds to various sounds.

In the study, the researchers trained rats to press a bar to receive water when they heard a certain tone. The tone was varied in its importance to different rats as shown by their different levels of correct performance.

After brain mapping these test rats, the researchers found that the greater the importance of the tone, the greater the area of the auditory cortex that became tuned to it. The results in rats that received the same tones but were trained to a visual stimulus did not differ from those in untrained rats, showing that the behavioral importance of the tone, not its mere presence, was the critical factor.

Study results appear on the Online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders supported the effort.

Source: University of California, Irvine

Explore further: Rejuvenating the comparative approach in modern neuroscience

Related Stories

Rejuvenating the comparative approach in modern neuroscience

July 20, 2015

65 years ago, the famed behavioral endocrinologist Frank Beach wrote an article in The American Psychologist entitled 'The Snark was a Boojum'. The title refers to Lewis Carroll's poem 'The Hunting of the Snark', in which ...

Neural 3-D compass discovered in mammalian brain

December 3, 2014

Pilots are trained to guard against vertigo: a sudden loss of the sense of vertical direction that renders them unable to tell "up" from "down" and sometimes even leads to crashes. Coming up out of a subway station can produce ...

New research reveals fish are smarter than we thought

October 30, 2014

(Phys.org) —A new study from researchers in our Department of Psychology with colleagues at Queen Mary University of London has reported the first evidence that fish are able to process multiple objects simultaneously.

Recommended for you

Stressed out plants send animal-like signals

July 29, 2015

University of Adelaide research has shown for the first time that, despite not having a nervous system, plants use signals normally associated with animals when they encounter stress.

Short wavelength plasmons observed in nanotubes

July 28, 2015

The term "plasmons" might sound like something from the soon-to-be-released new Star Wars movie, but the effects of plasmons have been known about for centuries. Plasmons are collective oscillations of conduction electrons ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.